Tuesday, March 1, 2005

What Is It

David Hume was a superb essayist, a brilliant philosopher, and a world-class bon vivant. His philosophical views in ethics, epistemology, aesthetics, and the philosophy of religion, though shocking to many in his own time, are enduring touchstones of modern philosophy, still required reading of every student of philosophy. Join John and Ken for a tour of a few of Hume's most startling ideas with Don Garrett from NYU, author of Cognition and Commitment in Hume’s Philosophy.

Listening Notes

David Hume's claim to fame was knocking reason out of its exalted position. Since ancient times, philosophers have thought that reason was the privileged method of finding the truth. He wrote that reason should be slave to the passions. Does Hume's philosophy destroy the rational basis for science and ethics? John thinks Hume's philosophy does not have these extreme consequences. Ken introduces Don Garrett, professor at NYU. Garrett says that Hume treated reason as something a psychologist could study and that he was the first philosopher who is interested in cognitive psychology. 

Ken thinks that Hume's ethical views undermine morality. Garrett explains that Hume said that we need sentiments in addition to reason to act. Garrett contrasts Hume's ethical view with Kant's, saying that Hume's emphasizes human nature. What does Hume say about what we ought to do? Garrett says Hume thought you should start by finding out what kind of person you want to be. Hume thought education plays a big part in tempering moral views. 

Why do we think that the future will be like the past? Hume famously argued that inductive arguments are not valid. Hume was a compatibilist, that is, he thought that determinism and free will are compatible. What are Hume's views on religion? He thought religion, on a whole, was a bad thing. How did Hume think we learn things? He thought that everything in our mind was either an impression of the senses or an idea. Reasoning about ideas and impressions produces knowledge. Finally, Ken concludes that Hume put an end to the rationalism of ancient Greek thought.

  • Roving Philosophical Reporter (Seek to 04:32): Amy Standen interviews people on the street on what they know about David Hume. She then interviews a retired professor at Stanford University. 
  • Conundrum (Seek to 47:08): Debra from Oregon asks: do the ends ever justify the means? Suppose someone makes a billion dollars through evil methods but uses the money to a good end. Is this wrong? How do we decide what the right end is?